Except for the constant flow of booze and acts of foolish mischief, Mardi Gras revelers in Basile seemed to have it backward.
Instead of jumping and hollering for beads and trinkets, they knelt and sang for food and money. Rather than parading to a cacophony of marching bands and Top 40 hits, the masked bunch danced to traditional Cajun music played by a father-son duo.
With neither crowds nor floats, the Courir de Mardi Gras á Basile represented the traditional Fat Tuesday celebration, in which its participants — called “runners” or “Mardi Gras,” with a hard S — scoured the streets for gumbo ingredients while acting foolish ahead of the Lenten season.
It’s a tradition that fell out of favor before regaining traction over the past two decades, said Basile native Sidney Fontenot, 56.
“Twenty-five years ago, it got down to 18 people — so weak that I had to start running again,” Fontenot recalled. “Now, I’ve got three grown children in the run today.”
Fontenot hauled a flatbed trailer loaded with beer-filled ice chests during Tuesday’s celebration, which began at the Town Park Barn about 7 a.m. and snaked all day through the town of less than 2,000.
In front of each of a dozen stops along the route, the 70 or so “Mardi Gras” jumped from two caged-in trailers and knelt before Russell “Potic” Rider, the 68-year-old president of the Basile Mardi Gras Association, as he led the group in its begging song.
“Une bonne petite bière froide les ferait chanter meilleur,” sang Rider, a “Capitaine” with a cape and a bull whip, the latter used to keep the rowdy crowd in order. The words translate to, “A good little cold beer would make them sing better.”
Fists pumping, the chorus responded with the chant, “C’est hip, c’est hip, c’est hop, et mon cher de camarade!”
After the chorus chimed in, the runners jumped from the ground and into their next act of begging, dancing and taunting bystanders by untying their shoes or sneaking up behind them.
Although the “Mardi Gras” captured a few live chickens during the courir, the gumbo ingredients these days are gathered ahead of time in Basile, making the charitable giving open for alternatives.
At the home of 60-year-old Carolyn Bertrand, for instance, the beggars earned a case of beer to add to their ice chests.
“My husband used to do the run, and we keep up the tradition since he passed away,” Bertrand said, just as a masked reveler, beer in hand, stumbled down the three steps leading from her doorway. It was 7:45 a.m.
“I’ma have to bring you home, honey!” she threatened.
About halfway through the day, 63-year-old Candace Klumpp laid out tables of fresh boudin, boudin balls and sausage for the “Mardi Gras” outside of her specialty meats store beside the Basile Eunice Highway.
“I’ve always been scared of them,” she said, laughing, as a masked “Mardi Gras” knelt at her feet, rubbing her boots. “But this is the way we’ve grown up doing Mardi Gras.”
Klumpp is sister to Fontenot, whose 19-year-old daughter, Thea, said she grew up scared of the masked marauders, too.
“But now I’ve done the run every year for the last nine years,” she said.
By 10 a.m. and outside of Basile’s assisted living home, about a dozen of its residents sat in wheelchairs, draped in blankets to battle a frigid morning that brought temperatures in the low 30s.
As they’ve done at every other stop during the last three courirs in Basile, 43-year-old Jude Meche and his 13-year-old son, Aaron, played traditional Cajun guitar and violin music as the “Mardi Gras” approached the home and its residents.
“It’s fun to be part of the tradition,” said Meche, an English teacher at LSU-Eunice. “I think it’s an important thing that we keep it going.”
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.